Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dealing with bitterness

Dealing with bitterness
Matthew 18:21 – 35

Last week we started a series on bitterness.  If you miss a Sunday, make sure you go to because each week we are learning something new and important about this subject.

Bitterness is one of the most important issues an individual or a church faces because it causes so many types of problems both to the individual and to the church.  In 1970 David Belgum proposed that 75% of all physical illness are rooted in emotional causes.  I would guess that most spiritual and personal problems come from the issue of bitterness.

The trouble is that we tend to deal (comfortably) with symptoms.  The Bible describes bitterness as a root.  When we begin to deal with roots, it is uncomfortable and disturbing.  One way to picture bitterness is:

* The following sermon extensively uses the book “Get the Junk out of your Trunk: Let go of the past to live your best life” by Duane Vander Klok (2005).  For further information visit  (Chosen books is a division of Baker Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI)

I.    Bitterness is like a tattoo. [Matthew 18:21 – 35]

      A.    It starts with Peter’s question.

        1.    “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” [v 21]

            a.    This sounds like a good question and Peter pushes the cultural norm of 3 strikes up to 7!

            b.    The problem is that Peter’s suggestion requires a person to count, in other words... remember.

        2.    Jesus’ answer included a story.

            a.    Sometimes we don’t understand a straight answer, they require explanation.

            b.    Jesus set up the explanation with a story.

    B.    “The parable of the unmerciful servant.”

        1.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with PERCEPTION.

            a.    He asked for patience... more time to pay back his debt.

                1.)    This debt was 375 tons of silver or about 10,000 years of an average annual income.

                2.)    What made him think he could pay this back?

            b.    What King gave him was way more than he dared to ask: pity.

                1.)    The King canceled the debt (this was not unconditional).

                2.)    The King let him go.

            c.    The problem with perception was the difference between “mine” and “yours.”

                1.)    Our sin is never as bad as someone else’s sin.  (Faulty perception)

                2.)    Someone else’s sin is always worse than ours.  (Faulty perception)

        2.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with PRIORITIES.

            a.    He valued the mercy he had received but would not extend it to another.

                1.)    The debt owed to him was substantial, about 100 days...

                2.)    The idea was to extract what was owed to him.

            b.    In English the words “ought” and “owe” come from the same root word.

                1.)    When we say we/they “ought” we typically mean that it is a debt.

                2.)    The word “apology” does not appear in the Bible.  The closest we get to the idea is repentance.

                    a.)    Yet we feel the other person “owes” us at least an apology (preferably changed behavior).  BTW, most people we hold resentment towards do not even know they have offended us (nor did they mean to offend us).

                    b.)    The initiative to forgive, according to Jesus is on the offended party... and it is unconditional.

        3.    The unmerciful servant had a problem with the PRICE.

            a.    He was tagged as “wicked” (hurtful in effect or influence not essential character).

                1.)    In other words, “Sick people produce sick theologies” [David Seamands]

                2.)    When we mistake the kindness and mercy of God for licence to be critical or collect a debt owed to us we have missed the point of God’s kindness and mercy.

            b.    Unwillingness to forgive disqualified us from being forgiven.

                1.)    Every agreement between God and people in the Bible is “conditional.”

                2.)    The only condition for us to receive forgiveness is to forgive others.  [Caution: This is not earning our salvation!  The character of being forgiven is forgiving others.]

II.    Bitterness can be turned inward (guilt, shame) or outward (perfectionism, grumbling, gossip, etc...) creating devastating consequences.

    A.    We will live under TORMENTED CONDITIONS.

        1.    We will suffer from “awful memories,” “sinful habits,” and “a passion for revenge.” [Vander Klok]

        2.    We will suffer from developing substitutes [Seamands]

            a.    Depression will replace joy.

            b.    Strife will replace peace.

            c.    Lust will replace love.

            d.    Self-effort (often in the form of perfectionism) will replace grace.

(Ill.) The boy that came home from school excited he got a 99% on an important exam.  Ran to his dad for approval.  The dad said, “Why didn’t you get 100%?”

    B.    We will have TROUBLED HABITS.

        1.    Bitterness is a “root.”

            a.    We cannot always see it but where there is a root, there is a plant.

            b.    We don’t plant weeds or water them... but they grow in drought conditions and kill grass or fruitful plants.

                1.)    CAUTION: the “visible” plant may look different than the root.

                2.)    In other words, the bitter root may not be self evident from the plant (symptoms, behavior, what is seen).

        2.    Often we try to treat the symptoms and leave the root untouched.

            a.    You can kill the plant, but if the root survives then the plant will be back... sooner or later, one way or another.

            b.    Ultimately the effects of bitterness is self-inflicted.

(Ill.)  Mr. Bean goes to a dentist.  As the dentist goes to give him a shot of novocaine something goes terribly wrong and the dentist is knocked unconscious.  Mr. Bean decides to take things into his own hands.  He reads the x-rays, shoots the novocaine, and begins to drill.  A sudden thought hits him, he might have the x-rays up side down... in the end he is feverishly drilling all his teeth.

                1.)    Bitterness tends to make us hyper-sensitive.

                2.)    Bitterness tends to make us imagine things that are not.

    C.    We will live in TORRID SPIRITUALITY

        1.    Torrid means miserable dry, “full of difficulty.” [Oxford]

            a.    Ask yourself if you struggle with basic things like daily devotions, daily prayer, church attendance, getting something out of them...

            b.    Chances are that lack of any real growth or fruit is a result of living in the torrid spirituality of bitterness.

        2.    (Ill) The horrible disease of AIDS breaks down the physical immune system.  Bitterness breaks down the spiritual immune system and will eventually kill us spiritually.

III.    Two case studies.

    A.    Ester 5:7 – 14 = Haman

        1.    Notice that Haman was extremely rich... we might call him a billionaire in today’s society.

        2.    Haman was basically second in command, everyone but the king had to bow down to him.

        3.    Haman had the perfect family times two (10 sons).

        4.    Even though he had “everything” (money, power, family) he was consumed with bitterness.

“But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate.” [v 13]

        5.    Notice he even managed to pull his friends and family into his bitterness. [v 14]

    B.    1 Samuel 18:6 – 10a

        1.    King Saul became jealous over the attention and praise given to David.

        2.    King Saul began to obsess about David. [v 9] (I think this was deliberate choice... a single act of the will... because...)

        3.    “The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.” [v 10]

            a.    Notice that this occurred “very” quickly as a consequence of his sin.

            b.    Bitterness grows quickly and breaks us down spiritually.

    C.    Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.

        1.    Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” [Mark 11:25]

            a.    Forgiveness is courageous while unforgiveness is cowardly... they are both an act of the will.

            b.    Here’s the rule of thumb: “ANYTHING and ANYONE.”

IV.    Once tattooed, bitterness requires life-long, deliberate discipline, and continuous watch against it.

    A.    What do we need to do?

        1.    Start with accepting the forgiveness God offers to you.  If you do not trust God in such a way that it changes your everyday life... none of this will work.

        2.    “Forgive by faith” [Vander Klok]

            a.    No apology is needed from the other person (remember in all likelihood they did not intend to hurt you, either way it doesn’t matter).

            b.    No confrontation is needed.  (Don’t go them and say, “you really hurt me but I forgive you anyway.”  That’s being self-righteous.)

        3.    Put forgiveness to work.  This is called “love.”

        4.    Pray.

            a.    Pray that God would bless, not curse, the other person.

            b.    Pray for them until the resentment and bitter feelings are gone.

        5.    Develop a continuous watch over your heart.

            a.    Make it a habit to forgive immediately.

            b.    (Ill.) Garden weeds are easier to handle if you deliberately go after them regularly and not wait for them to take over.

        6.    Drop the guilt.

            a.    Missionary and author Amy Carmichael once said that you have not forgiven until you have forgotten.

            b.    That is not scriptural.  In fact it is damaging advice.  Only God can forget, but what you can do is love.

            c.    The rule of thumb should be, you have not forgiven until you truly love.

    B.    Bottom line: Forgiveness is a choice to treat others the way God has treated you.

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